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Sunday, October 27, 2002

The press doesn't count, starting with the Quote of the Day:
"Here I'm not being spit on, people aren't throwing tomatoes at me and Joan Baez isn't singing," said protest veteran Dot Magargal, 77, from Media, Pa. -- from the Washington Post article about yesterday's peace rally in DC. The post article is quite exuberant about the DC rally, estimating the turnout at 100,000 and saying that it was probably the largest anti-war rally in Washington since the Vietnam era. The Post appears to have gotten its numbers from rally organizers, who might tend to be optimistic. Meanwhile, the NY Times downplays the turnout, saying it was "thousands" and "fewer than hoped for" by organizers. CNN says there were "tens of thousands" without citing a source.

Meanwhile, I was in downtown Ann Arbor yesterday participating in our own march and rally. The Ann Arbor News covered the rally. Their article states: "Ann Arbor police estimated about 2,500 people attended the demonstration, but others said the crowd seem not quite so large. One participant put the number at 700 or 800." The reporter doesn't comment further on the size of the crowd.

How hard can it be to get a good estimate of crowd size? In Ann Arbor it would have been simple. The march started in a well-defined space and proceeded linearly to another well-defined space. A single photo from above (the top floor of the grad library, for example) would have included most of the crowd. From such a photo you could easily get an almost exact count within half an hour (less than that with copies and more people to count), or a good estimate in five minutes. Alternatively, counting people as they pass by a certain point on the march for a minute and multiplying by the number of minutes for the entire crowd to pass would also give a good estimate. In DC it would have been harder, especially the last method, but the resources on hand would have been greater. A few photos taken nearly simultaneously from the top of the Washington monument or somebody's news helicopter could have been used to get a decent estimate. We should see discrpancies between say 89 thousand, 97 thousand and 103 thousand, not huge disparities between thousands, tens of thousands, and 100 thousand.